PROJECTLessons on Inclusive Recovery in the Past 12 Months

Newsletter 12/12

Dear friends and colleagues,

Just over a year ago, we published the first newsletter in our Inclusive Recovery Insights series. Our goal was to take the lessons learned in our 2018 study of the factors that helped cities facing economic distress recover in more racially and economically inclusive ways and apply them in light of the pandemic. With each essay, we hoped to encourage creativity in applying these strategies to COVID-era realities and challenge assumptions about who should have power, voice, and influence in shaping the future of the cities and communities we call home. 

Specifically, we wanted to share how city and community leaders were working together across sectors—and across agendas—to galvanize economic resources in ways that actively centered the contributions and perspectives of all community members. By lifting up examples of inclusive policies and practices, we aimed to help local leaders reimagine the possibilities for their efforts and their communities.

This work took us to some interesting places and illuminated important themes that those cities had in common, as well as their powerful partnerships:

  • We heard about a cross-sector partnership to address economic inequality in Fresno, California, an initiative that gathered steam after a data-driven discovery process led local leaders to reconsider their assumptions about institutional reform and antipoverty efforts. 
  • We spoke with young leaders securing their own space and power in the political process through a youth engagement initiative started by Abner Mikva, an initiative in which Chicago student advisory council member Cassius Palacio highlighted the value of respectful partnership between young advocates and local decisionmakers. 
  • We explored the role that placemaking plays in inclusive recovery—and how intentional dialogue with the people who already live or work in a place and a commitment to partnership, shared planning, and collective decisionmaking are essential to an effective placemaking strategy.

We also saw how communities are reckoning with harmful policies and practices that have locked Black, immigrant, and other historically marginalized people out of recovery efforts. Through conversations with local leaders and experts, we unpacked how those past actions created the inequities we face now and sought bold, promising strategies for correcting the damage and doing better in the future. 

  • We looked at how movements in cities like Minneapolis and Washington, DC, are trying to shift our society’s problematic narrative about what makes some work and workers valuable and not others. 
  • Pandemic-related uncertainty and disruption have touched us all, and we know some people have been burdened with more stressors than others. As we gain a full picture of the pandemic’s devastating effect on mental health—and the economic impacts of disparities in access to mental health supports—we discussed how local leaders will be pivotal in elevating a conversation about mental health as a component of population-level health and inclusive policy.
  • We explored how local leaders can help people build wealth and support solutions that narrow wealth disparities and how the current economic recovery offers a rare opportunity for their efforts to address how generations of racist policies and actions have created racial and ethnic wealth gaps that exacerbate inequities in poverty, health, and educational attainment. 
  • And we highlighted how local leaders might consider innovative approaches to spur economic recovery—like the Washington, DC, proposal for establishing trust funds for children born to low-income families. The growing popularity around these “baby bonds” suggests something critical: a long-overdue opening for bold policies and programs to finally address wealth disparities.

These examples represent big-bet thinking by local leaders to ensure marginalized communities are included in recovery efforts. 

But we can also be intentional about prioritizing and scaling up solutions that are already working. We saw many promising examples of local leaders driving inclusive recovery by building on what works and thinking more broadly about the tools already at their disposal. 

  • Before the pandemic, community colleges were playing an essential role in local economies by connecting workforce development and higher education while supporting workers on a pathway to a better life. We learned how several cities are building on the expertise and partnership networks inherent to community college systems to encourage economic growth that includes the millions of people attending these institutions. 
  • The pandemic has changed how we access school and work, illuminating why an equitable digital infrastructure is essential—and the importance of guaranteeing everyone can take advantage of the opportunities technology provides. The pandemic pushed our already emerging digital economy into overdrive; local leaders can build on that progress by continuing to prioritize digital literacy and engaging citizens in identifying and developing solutions.
  • Large-scale government relief has been essential to stabilizing small businesses and entrepreneurs, but as we’ve seen elsewhere, those gains haven’t been distributed equally. Examples of cities scaling up existing supports for small businesses offer a critical insight on growing a healthy “ecosystem” in which entrepreneurs of color can withstand downturns. 
  • And finally, we saw how government interventions have been an overall stabilizing force for households, too. City leaders can harness that momentum by expanding access to existing tax credits and financial supports, as well as ramping up evidence-based approaches to helping people save, access credit, and build financial stability. 

Truth be told, we hoped we’d be in a different place at the end of this series. And there are signs that economic recovery is on the horizon: rising vaccination rates, businesses opening, and the promise of a safe, effective vaccine for kids in the coming weeks. But we also saw how much further we have to go. Though the timeline is unclear, the challenge to bring along everyone in our country’s recovery remains as relevant as ever—and the insights and lessons raised in these newsletters hopefully illuminate a more hopeful path ahead.

Thanks to everyone who joined us on this journey. Whether you read our past newsletters or clicked on the links above, we hope you found an idea that challenged your assumptions or an example that inspired new thinking about your own work. In a few weeks, we will be sharing even more local examples in a brief that provides a framework for decisionmaking for local leaders looking to center racial equity and inclusion in this economic recovery.

Finally, massive props and sincere thanks to the wonderful team behind making these newsletters come together, especially Tiffany TurnerMadeline Brown, and  Marcela Montes.

Justin Milner


The Urban Institute’s Collaboration with JPMorgan Chase
The Urban Institute is collaborating with JPMorgan Chase to inform and catalyze a data-driven and inclusive economic recovery. The goals of the collaboration include generating cross-sector, place-based insights to guide local decisionmakers, using data and evidence to help advise JPMorgan Chase on the firm’s philanthropic strategy, and conducting new research to advance the broader fields of policy, philanthropy, and practice. This newsletter series outlines what inclusive recovery means in light of the coronavirus global pandemic. Subscribe here to learn more about the cities/communities that have successfully applied the principles of inclusive recovery to the realities of pandemic response and ensured that those most harmed by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are ultimately those best positioned to frame the way forward.

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